Is Kel­lie Leitch for real? Richard War­nica spoke to dozens of the Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship can­di­date’s sup­port­ers and de­trac­tors to find out

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Imag­ine for a sec­ond that ev­ery­thing wild that’s hap­pened in pol­i­tics over the past sev­eral years — all the mad­ness from Trump to Brexit and even Rob Ford — could be bro­ken down into three points: push­pins, if you like, punched into a cork­board in a tri­an­gle pat­tern. Those pins have al­ways ex­isted in pol­i­tics — call them the mes­sage, the mes­sen­ger and the au­di­ence. That much hasn’t changed. What’s warped some­how is the re­la­tion­ship be­tween them.

There was a time, not long ago, when there were bounds in pol­i­tics. The push­pins were con­nected by string. You could trace the path from mes­sen­ger down to mes­sage across to au­di­ence and back up again. The pins ex­isted, in other words, in de­fined re­la­tion to each other. If you pulled any one too far from the oth­ers the whole thing would break.

What that meant in a prac­ti­cal sense was that, to suc­ceed, politi­cians had to sell things that seemed, at least on some level, au­then­tic to who they were. They couldn’t pull the mes­sage too far from the mes­sen­ger and still reach an au­di­ence. The two had to seem con­nected for peo­ple to buy in.

Pol­i­tics doesn’t seem to work that way any­more. To­day, that string has be­come an elas­tic band. The ties are still there, but they are stretch­ing. The pins are all over the board, and the old ideas of who can sell what to whom are slip­ping away.



To­day, a rich kid screw- up with a drink­ing prob­lem can sell a city on fis­cal pru­dence and hard work. A bil­lion­aire grifter with a son named Bar­ron can be­come the cham­pion of the for­got­ten work­ing class. And right now, in Canada, a con­sum­mate po­lit­i­cal in­sider—a woman who has spent her en­tire adult life chas­ing con­ven­tional po­lit­i­cal suc­cess — can build a cam­paign against “in­sid­ers” and the “elite.”

All of which helps ex­plains, why, on the first Tues­day of 2017, as the Con­ser­va­tive Party lead­er­ship race trudged into its third cal­en­dar year, Kel­lie Leitch, MD, MBA, and veteran of al­most four decades of in­sider con­ser­va­tive work, ap­peared on a Fox Busi­ness Net­work seg­ment ti­tled “The Global Trump Ef­fect.”

Leitch is no nat­u­ral on cam­era. She strug­gles with ban­ter and has a cu­ri­ous af­fect, a way of seem­ing to process ques­tions al­most phys­i­cally be­fore steer­ing her an­swers roughly back to her mes­sage track. The “elites,” Leitch — who once ran two univer­sity pro­grams at once — told the host, are “out of touch with the av­er­age Cana­dian.” Along with the “in­sid­ers” and the “left wing me­dia” they are “push­ing their open bor­der, glob­al­ist agenda.”

It was, in many re­spects, a re­mark­able ad­dress. Had it ap­peared in iso­la­tion it might have been enough to cause sev­eral dozen Con­ser­va­tive heads to ex­plode. But for Leitch, it was only the lat­est in a long se­ries of de­lib­er­ately provoca­tive gam­bits. In the last five months, Leitch has promised to test im­mi­grants and refugees for “anti- Cana­dian val­ues.” She has praised Don­ald Trump’s vic­tory and aped his cam­paign mes­sag­ing, with vows to “drain the Canal” — an al­lu­sion to his prom­ise to “drain the swamp” in Wash­ing­ton. She has, after a life­time of work­ing within con­ser­va­tive par­ties, de­cided that “in­sid­ers” are a bad thing.

Along the way, Leitch has suc­ceeded, if noth­ing else, in shap­ing the pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion around the Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship race. In a long, low pro­file cam­paign, ab­sent — un­til the re­cent en­try of Kevin O’Leary — any big names, Leitch has dom­i­nated me­dia cover­age. She has made the race, on a cer­tain level, a ref­er­en­dum on her­self and on her ideas. In the process she has en­raged and baf­fled some party vet­er­ans. She has alien­ated friends and col­leagues who have known her for decades and em­bold­ened an anti- Mus­lim, an­ti­im­mi­grant fringe within her own party.

And she’s done it all be­cause of those pins.

Leitch’s en­tire cam­paign is a wager. It’s a gam­ble on elas­tic­ity. She is bank­ing, with ev­ery dog­whis­tle state­ment, ev­ery Trump al­lu­sion and anti- elite jibe, on the idea that the link be­tween mes­sen­ger and mes­sage in pol­i­tics is so loose now it might as well not ex­ist. She’s trust­ing that in 2017, any­one can sell any­thing. His­tory doesn’t mat­ter. Back­ground doesn’t mat­ter. Au­then­tic­ity is dead. It’s a hell of a bet. For Leitch, it means putting at stake the very pub­lic idea of her­self. Even if she suc­ceeds she will be for­ever branded by this cam­paign. She will al­ways be known as the one who opened that door in Cana­dian pol­i­tics. And she’s risk­ing all of that, one has to as­sume, be­cause she thinks it can work. And that’s where things get re­ally in­ter­est­ing.

Leitch’s ad­vis­ers aren’t stupid. If they have her preach­ing Cana­dian val­ues and im­mi­grant screen­ing, it’s be­cause they think that mes­sage can land. They be­lieve there is an au­di­ence for her Trump- light shtick, the same au­di­ence, on a dif­fer­ent scale, in a dif­fer­ent coun­try, that came out for Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion last week, the au­di­ence that stunned the Repub­li­can Party, the United States, and the en­tire world last year.

If they’re right about that, then Cana­dian pol­i­tics are about to change no mat­ter what hap­pens with Leitch’s cam­paign. Be­cause that would mean that the same forces that re­shaped Amer­i­can pol­i­tics and Bri­tish pol­i­tics, that have taken over Hun­gary and moved into France and Hol­land and half of Europe are not just ac­tive here, but as­cen­dant.

That means the most im­por­tant ques­tion in Cana­dian pol­i­tics right now — the one that has the most po­ten­tial to dis­rupt how this coun­try looks and feels and gov­erns it­self for the next gen­er­a­tion— is this:

When Kel­lie Leitch speaks, who’s lis­ten­ing, and what do they hear?

Don Link grew up Cal­gary in the 1960s, just north­east of the city’s core. He had a great child­hood there, he said. But he’s 60 now, and he’s wor­ried his nieces and neph­ews won’t have the same op­por­tu­ni­ties that he did. “I see things chang­ing in Canada for the worse,” he said re­cently from his cur­rent home on Van­cou­ver Is­land. “I en­vi­sion — look­ing at what’s happening in Europe at the mo­ment, in Ger­many, France, Bel­gium, Eng­land — that Canada is go­ing in the same di­rec­tion.”

Link is wor­ried about many things, but chief among them are Muslims and Mus­lim im­mi­gra­tion. He holds views on Is­lam that are, by any def­i­ni­tion, ex­treme. He thinks Cana­dian Muslims are try­ing to im­pose Shariah law in Canada. “It’s happening al­ready,” he said. His Face­book page is lit­tered with ref­er­ences to the “Caliphate Broad­cast­ing Com­pany” — what he calls the CBC — and to the “Prime Mo­hammedan” — Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau. At the top of his page, be­hind his pro­file pic­ture, is a large image of Kel­lie Leitch.

At the end of Novem­ber, Leitch re­leased a state­ment on her Face­book page brand­ing her cam­paign The Re­venge of the Com­ment Sec­tion. “Are you tired of be­ing ig­nored or mocked by the Liberal and me­dia elites?” she wrote. “It’s time to say ‘enough’ to this con­de­scend­ing, elit­ist sar­casm.” Her sup­port­ers, Link in­cluded, lapped it up. “We need to take this coun­try back from this liberal glob­al­iza­tion,” wrote one user, who posted un­der the name Bren­don Ir­win. “Just like our broth­ers and sis­ters did in the U.S.A.”

Leitch fans on­line — her per­sonal com­ment sec­tion — run a pretty wide gamut. But talk to enough of them and themes do emerge. As an ex­pe­ri­ence, it’s not dis­sim­i­lar from talk­ing to Trump sup­port­ers last year in places like West Vir­ginia, New Hamp­shire and Ohio. There’s a core dis­trust for the main­stream me­dia and a dis­like of the politically cor­rect. Fears about im­mi­gra­tion and refugees pop up a lot, along with hor­ror sto­ries, of­ten du­bi­ously sourced, about Mus­lim refugees in Europe.

As much as any­thing, what you get from talk­ing to Leitch sup­port­ers is a loose sense that she can re­fo­cus the coun­try in­ward some­how, away from refugees or in­ter­na­tional aid and back to­ward some­thing that may have never ex­isted at all. “I thought, well, this is the lady that’s go­ing to rep­re­sent what Stephen Harper used to call the Old Stock Cana­di­ans, the ones that have been here for a while,” said Shel­lie Cor­reia, a Leitch fan who lives just out­side of Wel­land, Ont. “And I think that’s im­por­tant. Be­cause you don’t want new peo­ple com­ing in think­ing they have spe­cial rights and that they will be catered to over the peo­ple who have been here all along.”

That feel­ing man­i­fests it­self in dif­fer­ent ways. But it comes off in gen­eral as a pref­er­ence for Canada — and a very par­tic­u­lar idea of Cana­di­ans — first. “I see home­less peo­ple or poor peo­ple in Al­berta, peo­ple af­fected by the econ­omy,” said Devon Man­nix, a 19- year- old Leitch sup­porter in Fort McMur­ray. “All those hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars that go to Syr­ian refugees, I feel like those could go to help­ing (them) in­stead.”

In per­son, Leitch tends to be very guarded in what she says. She rarely di­verts from her mes­sage track and will find a way to yank most ques­tions back to a short list of talk­ing points: about Canada hav­ing a core iden­tity, or on face-to-face in­ter­views for po­ten­tial im­mi­grants and refugees. Some­what para­dox­i­cally, that has earned her a rep­u­ta­tion among her fans as a free-speak­ing en­emy of the politically cor­rect. They bring it up all the time.

“No­body knows, ba­si­cally, how to speak their mind any­more,” said Wally Fitz­patrick, a Leitch sup­porter in New­found­land. “There’s too many feel­ings out there to be hurt ... You gotta bite your tongue. You can’t say Merry Christ­mas, for God’s sake.” Leitch, he be­lieves, is dif­fer­ent. “I find, boy, she speaks her mind.”

That rep­u­ta­tion likely comes less from what Leitch says than for what peo­ple — sup­port­ers and de­trac­tors — as­sume she’s hint­ing at. Don Link was ini­tially at­tracted to Leitch be­cause of her plan to screen im­mi­grants, refugees and vis­i­tors to Canada for “anti- Cana­dian val­ues.” He be­lieves that what she re­ally means is screen­ing for Muslims. “The big­gest thing that drew me to her is her un­der­stand­ing — I think it’s her un­der­stand­ing any­way — of the threat of po­lit­i­cal Is­lam to Canada, " he said.

Link isn’t both­ered by the fact that Leitch her­self doesn’t talk about Mus­lim im­mi­grants or refugees specif­i­cally. He thinks she’s just try­ing to avoid a back­lash from the l i be­ral me­dia and the politically cor­rect. “I know she un­der­stands that Cana­dian val­ues are un­der threat and to me that ( Mus­lim im­mi­gra­tion) is one of the big­gest threats,” he said.

Link isn’t alone among Leitch sup­port­ers in feel­ing that way. In fact, most of those in­ter­viewed for this story brought up Is­lam or Mus­lim im­mi­grants with­out prompt­ing. “My big­gest beef is with the in­va­sion,” said Fitz­patrick. “I call it an in­va­sion from the Mid­dle East...We had one small mosque in St. John’s and now there’s two in there and they’re blocked. They’re ab­so­lutely blocked. They’re com­ing in and no­body knows.”



In a re­cent in­ter­view, Leitch was asked why, if her cam­paign isn’t tar­get­ing Muslims, some of her sup­port­ers seem to feel that it is. “Well, I can’t spec­u­late on why it’s happening,” she said. “All I can do is talk about what I be­lieve in and I be­lieve that our coun­try was built on a cer­tain value set and I con­tinue to talk about that.”

She also pointed out that when a noted white supremacist tried to j oin her cam­paign, she had his mem­ber­ship quashed. She did not ad­dress why a white supremacist might be in­ter­ested in join­ing her cam­paign in the first place.

In the in­ter­view, Leitch bris­tled when asked about her cam­paign’s flir­ta­tion with Trump­ism. “If im­i­ta­tion is on one oc­ca­sion that some­thing like that may have oc­curred, sure,” she said, about her prom­ise to drain the Canal. “But over­all, if you’re ask­ing me if I’m speak­ing sort of the same lan­guage as Mr. Trump, I’m talk­ing about a num­ber of the same is­sues be­cause what I’m hear­ing from Cana­di­ans are sim­i­lar con­cerns.”

It’s clear, for some of her sup­port­ers at least, mim­ick­ing Trump is a virtue, not a sin. “I think Don­ald Trump is the best thing that could have ever hap­pened to Amer­ica,” said Cor­reia. What isn’t as clear is whether that mes­sage can res­onate be­yond a par­tic­u­lar fringe.


On a re­cent windy morn­ing in Wel­land, Tom Nap­per, a re­tired union of­fi­cial, walked through the cracked as­phalt park­ing lot of an aban­doned fac­tory just off the canal. Nap­per spent 32 years work­ing at that fac­tory, for John Deere. He started when he was 21, as a main­te­nance welder, and climbed the ranks un­til he be­came pres­i­dent of his lo­cal. He was in charge in 2008, when the fac­tory shut down, putting about 800 em­ploy­ees out of work.

Nap­per be­lieves that a politi­cian sell­ing Don­ald Trump’s mes­sage on trade and j obs could go a long way in the Wel­land area. The city — dev­as­tated by years of fac­tory clo­sures and in­dus­trial de­cline — is per­haps the clos­est thing Canada has to the Amer­i­can Rust Belt, states like Michi­gan and Penn­syl­va­nia that de­liv­ered Trump his win. “I’m telling you, in this area, there’s no ques­tion in my mind, it would def­i­nitely fly,” Nap­per said.

In the last few months Leitch has seemed, at times, to be speak­ing to those vot­ers. Like Trump, she pushes hard for nat­u­ral re­source de­vel­op­ment, in­clud­ing pipe­lines, that would em­ploy the blue- col­lar set. On her Fox ap­pear­ance, she ref­er­enced a “glob­al­ist, open- bor­der agenda,” us­ing lan­guage lifted from anti- trade na­tion­al­ists in Europe and the United States.

But Leitch her­self re­mains de­cid­edly pro- trade. " I think that we’re a trad­ing na­tion,” she said. “There’s only so many Cana­di­ans and we have an op­por­tu­nity to ex­pand the op­por­tu­ni­ties for small- and medi­um­sized busi­nesses when we have fair and open trade.” She stands by the pro- trade record of the Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment she has served in. She’s pro NAFTA, pro-Trans- Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, pro- free trade with the Euro­pean Union.

Her ap­peal, then, is to a nar­rower slice of the Trump con- stituency, one en­gaged more by iden­tity is­sues and im­mi­gra­tion than eco­nomics and jobs. The ques­tion for Leitch is whether there are enough of those vot­ers to carry her to vic­tory in the Con­ser­va­tive race, let alone in a gen­eral elec­tion.

Poll­sters and an­a­lysts from all three ma­jor par­ties are gen­er­ally skep­ti­cal, though few rule out the idea en­tirely. Many see her val­ues cam­paign more as a tac­ti­cal at­tempt to stand out in the early go­ing of the race than a gen­uine ex­pres­sion of be­lief. “She’s run­ning against the main­stream, which helps her get headlines and raise money in the short term,” said Brad Lav­i­gne, a long­time se­nior NDP cam­paign of­fi­cial. “But the bet is the short-term ex­po­sure that she’s get­ting now will come to haunt her if she were to win, be­cause there is not a sig­nif­i­cant au­di­ence for this among gen­eral elec­tion vot­ers.”

That’s not to say there is no con­stituency at all for that mes­sage in Canada. Com­pared to Euro­peans and Amer­i­cans, Cana­di­ans are still rel­a­tively open to things like for­eign in­vest­ment, im­mi­gra­tion and mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, ac­cord­ing to poll­ster Frank Graves, the pres­i­dent of Ekos Re­search. But that sup­port is not as strong as it once was, and it’s been go­ing down for years. “A lot of peo­ple think Canada doesn’t have the same forces that pro­duced Trump or Brexit,” Graves said. “It ab­so­lutely does. They’re a lit­tle bit muted, but they’re here.”

That au­di­ence is also dis­pro­por­tion­ately con­cen­trated among Con­ser­va­tive sup­port­ers, the peo­ple Leitch needs to cap­ture the lead­er­ship. Graves polled Cana­di­ans on sup­port for Don­ald Trump in Novem­ber. A sig­nif­i­cant ma­jor­ity of Liberal, NDP, Green and Bloc sup­port­ers dis­ap­proved of the job he was do­ing as pres­i­dent- elect. But a ma­jor­ity of Con­ser­va­tive sup­port­ers — 57 per cent — ap­proved. So when the Leitch team flicks at Trump’s themes or par­rots his cam­paign, they aren’t nec­es­sar­ily poi­son­ing the well, at least not the one they need to drink from right now.

Tim Pow­ers, a long­time Con­ser­va­tive strate­gist and out­spo­ken Leitch critic, be­lieves at the very least she could use the Trump mes­sage to sell mem­ber­ships. “I prob­a­bly have re­sponded as strongly as I have be­cause I be­lieve that they have the po­ten­tial to win by play­ing off fears and dis­con­tent and mis­un­der­stand­ings,” he said. "I think I’m not alone in that. There is still a good por­tion of Cana­dian so­ci­ety that har­bours an older, tra­di­tional ver­sion of the coun­try. And some of that tra­di­tional ver­sion is good and some of it is not so good.”

There are also those in other par­ties who will ad­mit, qui­etly, that Cana­di­ans of all stripes are not nearly as al­ler­gic to na­tion­al­ist anti- im­mi­grant mes­sages as some would like to pre­tend. One se­nior Liberal said the party’s own in­ter­nal polling shows that Cana­di­ans on the whole don’t love im­mi­gra­tion, and that even on the refugee is­sue that cap­ti­vated and helped turn the last elec­tion in the Lib­er­als’ favour, the polling was pretty mixed.

“It would be a folly to pre­tend that there isn’t a mar­ket for the Cana­dian val­ues mes­sage. There just is,” said Jason Li­etaer, a Con­ser­va­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tions strate­gist who ran the party’s war room in the 2011 cam­paign. “And it’s not just in ru­ral On­tario, ru­ral Canada ei­ther. We’re not the United States. It’s a dif­fer­ent mar­ket, dif­fer­ent mes­sage, dif­fer­ent cul­ture, dif­fer­ent ev­ery­thing. But there is a mar­ket for this. And she’s bet­ting on what the size of that mar­ket might be.”

Li­etaer be­lieves Leitch may find par­tic­u­larly fer­tile ground for her mes­sage in Que­bec, where de­bates over cul­tural val­ues, im­mi­gra­tion and as­sim­i­la­tion have raged for years. The Con­ser­va­tive Party ac­tu­ally won more votes and more seats in Que­bec in 2015 than it did in 2011. Many at­tribute that mar­ginal bump, con­cen­trated in the Que­bec City re­gion, to the promi­nence of the de­bate over the niqab in the cam­paign.

“A stu­dent of mine told me, a few months later, that he had been work­ing as an elec­tion worker and he said that the words at the end of the cam­paign were “niqab, niqab, niqab,” said Louis Mas­si­cotte, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Laval Univer­sity. “The gen­eral feel­ing here was that it was a good idea for the Con­ser­va­tive can­di­dates to raise this is­sue.”

For Leitch, whose French re­mains lack­lus­tre, cul­tural val­ues could be a way in to the cru­cial fran­co­phone voter pool. In the lead up to the re­cent French­language lead­er­ship de­bate, she spent sev­eral weeks straight in Que­bec, much of it con­cen­trated in the Que­bec City re­gion. “I wouldn’t say this is a provincewide phe­nom­e­non, but cer­tainly in some parts of Que­bec, the kind of ar­eas that vote fed­er­ally for the Con­ser­va­tive Party...


there is a mar­ket, so to speak, for such ideas,” Mas­si­cotte said.

All of that said, the gen­eral con­sen­sus among the dozen or so strate­gists, poll­sters and party in­sid­ers in­ter­viewed for this story, was that while Leitch may find an ini­tial, vo­cal au­di­ence for her anti- Cana­dian val­ues and anti- elite mes­sage, her po­ten­tial for long- term growth is prob­a­bly lim­ited. “I don’t see what the sec­ond bal­lot strat­egy is here, be­cause it’s such a po­lar­iz­ing is­sue,” said Li­etaer.

In­deed, sev­eral strate­gists sug­gested Leitch’s best hope is to win on the first bal­lot, an ex­ceed­ingly dif­fi­cult task in a race with 14 can­di­dates, a pref­er­en­tial bal­lot and an ar­cane sys­tem of di­vid­ing points be­tween all of Canada’s 338 rid­ings. For Leitch, that job will be made even harder by the fact that, ac­cord­ing to mul­ti­ple Con­ser­va­tive sources, her cam­paign strat­egy has of­fended wide swaths of the party.

“Among the rank and file of the party, and frankly any­body I talk to in the party, any­body I know in the party, ev­ery­body is re­ally, re­ally right pissed off at her for do­ing this,” said Yaroslav Baran, who ran com­mu­ni­ca­tions for Stephen Harper’s 2004 Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship cam­paign. Of­fi­cially neu­tral at the time of his re­marks, Baran an­nounced his sup­port for Michael Chong, one of Leitch’s ri­vals, this past week.

Though she has been cam­paign­ing ef­fec­tively since the end of the last fed­eral elec­tion, al­most 16 months ago, Leitch has at­tracted only three en­dorse­ments from her fel­low MPs, in­clud­ing one from long­time friend Peter Van Loan, and an­other from David Yur­diga, who rep­re­sents her home­town of Fort McMur­ray.

An­other long­time se­nior On­tario Con­ser­va­tive sug­gested that, as of now, Leitch is “no­body’s sec­ond choice.” “You can’t win this thing by burn­ing down the house with ev­ery­body else in it, and that’s what she’s try­ing to do,” he said.

Of course, there are two very dif­fer­ent is­sues here: One is whether there is a large enough au­di­ence in Canada for the antielite, pro-na­tion­al­ist mes­sage.

The other is whether, even if there is, Kel­lie Leitch is the right ve­hi­cle for sell­ing it. She is no doubt qual­i­fied to do many things, but her re­sume and life ex­pe­ri­ence sug­gest pitch­ing pop­ulism and out­sider pol­i­tics may not be among them.

Leitch vol­un­teered for her first po­lit­i­cal cam­paign when she was nine years old, putting up lawn signs for her fa­ther’s friend, the lo­cal MP at the time, in Fort McMur­ray. She joined the old Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive Party as a youth mem­ber as soon as she was legally able, and she has, in the more than three decades since, worked on more po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns, fed­er­ally, provin­cially and in­ter­nally, than even she can count, in­clud­ing al­most ev­ery sig­nif­i­cant lead­er­ship and elec­tion race in On­tario for the last sev­eral decades. “This is some­body who has been the ul­ti­mate Con­ser­va­tive in­sider since she was a teenager,” said Pow­ers. “You don’t get any more elite than Kel­lie Leitch.”

Leitch is quick to ad­mit that her ed­u­ca­tion is elite. But she said that doesn’t make her an elite politically. “I think some­one who is an elite is some­one who thinks they know bet­ter than other peo­ple,” she said, “who wants to im­pose their views on oth­ers.”

There’s also the au­then­tic­ity ques­tion. Leitch was, for most of her po­lit­i­cal life, con­sid­ered a cen­trist. She has no his­tory of cham­pi­oning cul­tural val­ues is­sues, antielite pop­ulism or much of any­thing to do with im­mi­gra­tion, at least not be­fore the last fed­eral elec­tion cam­paign. “Over the years we’ve had lit­er­ally dozens of con­ver­sa­tions about whether or not we would even­tu­ally run and what we would run on, what kind of is­sues at­tract us to pol­i­tics and things like that,” said one On­tario Con­ser­va­tive who has known Leitch since the mid-1990s. “I can tell you the num­ber of times is­sues re­lated to anti-Cana­dian val­ues came up was zero. Like not three, not seven, zero.”

An­other l ong­time ac­quain­tance in t he party tacked up her em­brace of those is­sues to “100 per cent pure bull­shit tac­tic(s).”

Leitch be­lieves that last crit­i­cism likely comes “from an an­gry in­di­vid­ual who thought they could tell me how to do things and is re­al­iz­ing I have a mind of my own.”

But that idea — that she em­braced Cana­dian val­ues and im­mi­grant screen­ing not from some deep- seated sense of prin­ci­ple but more in an ef­fort to carve out space in a crowded cam­paign — came up re­peat­edly in con­ver­sa­tions with other Con­ser­va­tives.

All those crit­i­cisms of Leitch, though, rely on the idea that pol­i­tics still work in some kind of pre­dictable, old- fash­ioned way. Leitch’s cam­paign, of course, is a bet that they don’t. She is an im­per­fect mes­sen­ger — in tone, tal­ents and his­tory — for a set of ideas that have not yet been proven to have any broad res­o­nance with the Cana­dian pub­lic. If noth­ing else, we are in a golden age for im­per­fect mes­sen­gers.

Even if she does lose, that doesn’t mean her mes­sage and her tac­tics — the Trump­light na­tivism of her cam­paign — are doomed in Canada. If she does well enough, if she makes it to the last sev­eral bal­lots, some­one else at some point — some­one more nat­u­rally suited to a Trum­p­like, Brexit- like or even Rob Ford- like cam­paign — will seize her ideas and run with them. In fact, some­one may al­ready have.


a st week, just be­fore Don­ald Trump swore t he oath of of­fice in Wash­ing­ton, Kevin O’Leary, re­al­ity tele­vi­sion star, busi­ness­man and pro­fes­sional self- pro­moter, ap­peared on CNN, live from a stu­dio in Florida. The ti­tle of the seg­ment, pre­served on­line, was “Canada’s Don­ald Trump?”

O’Leary brings to the Con­ser­va­tive race the other half of the Trump equa­tion, the half that Leitch lacks — the celebrity, the bom­bast, the sheer cussed re­fusal to care about look­ing dumb on TV. A Fo­rum poll re­leased shortly after his an­nounce­ment put him in the clear lead: among Cana­di­ans at large, Con­ser­va­tive sup­port­ers, and party mem­bers. Leitch, after all her press, all her great bets and provoca­tive moves, was in a three- way sta­tis­ti­cal tie for fifth.

Horse race polling in this kind of lead­er­ship race has lim­ited value. It doesn’t mea­sure mem­ber­ship sales, sec­ond choices or rid­ingby- rid­ing strength, all of which are as im­por­tant, if not more, than to­tal na­tional sup­port. But for Leitch, hav­ing gam­bled so much, it must gall. She bet her whole rep­u­ta­tion on a toxic idea — be­com­ing Canada’s less lu­natic Don­ald Trump. Now, with O’Leary in the race, she can’t even be that any­more.





Shel­lie Cor­reia, who lives just out­side of Wel­land, Ont, is a fan of Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship hope­ful Kel­lie Leitch.


Wel­land, Ont., res­i­dent Tom Nap­per looks at an aban­doned John Deere fac­tory he worked at for 32 years.


Tom Nap­per says a politi­cian sell­ing Trump’s mes­sage on trade, jobs would do well in Wel­land, Ont.


Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship can­di­date Kevin O’Leary.


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